Thursday, August 27, 2009
A Note on the Cohen/Port Case and Freedom of Speech
Words are rarely inconsequential. Language resides in the very heart of human life and sociality and while it can be most helpful when used correctly, it can also be most noxious when not.
Many people who choose to live their lives in a reason- and civility-informed fashion tend to believe that cyburbia much like suburbia, subscribes to certain rules of engagement apply. Or at least it should for without rules how can we all function properly?
In cyber space much as it is the case in real life, some people will deviate from generally established rules of decorum and decency and, more often than not, end up hurting a lot of other people in the process. Freedom is not free of the rules and regulations appended on the fine print, folks. And thank goodness, it isn't. When O'Henry said: "give me liberty of give me death," I very much doubt he had a kind of freedom in mind that was utterly free of personal responsibility. What kinds of free people can we be without common respect for one another?
I've recently thought about the Liskula Cohen and Rosemary Port case. Port's abominable online behavior has served as a vexing appetite suppressor on at least two occasions.
For those of you who don't know of this case (which cannot really be possible as I saw it featured on international papers as well while I was traveling this summer), do a Google-search on it and you'll learn much. Maureen Dowd observes:
"It began eight months ago when Liskula Cohen, a 37-year-old model and Australian Vogue cover girl, was surprised to find herself winning a “Skankiest in NYC” award from an anonymous blogger. The online tormentor put up noxious commentary on Google’s blogger.com, calling Cohen a “skank,” a “ho” and an “old hag” who “may have been hot 10 years ago.”
In a nutshell, the case involves an anonymous blogger who's now been revealed to be Rosemary Port and a model by the name of Liskula Cohen. Port started an anonymous website the sole mission of which apparently was to provide a hierarchy and ranking of the 'skankiest' people in New York. That's right. Skankiest. I'm not joking. Now, I'll be brutally honest here. I had no idea what the semantic and etymological nature of the word 'skank' was but thanks to the media coverage of this case I've learned much about it.
And, folks, 'skank' is not a good word. It's a vexing word. It vexes me, at least. There are so many great words that start with an 's' that one could use. So many. But Ms. Port was particularly fond of this one.
Now, I knew of Skank the Brazilian britpop band. But I can't say I'd ever had an opportunity to use 'skank' in a sentence. At least not the way Port was using it on her blog. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that it's not OK to use bad language when talking to and about people without being prepared to face the consequences. I still remember the day I called my first-grade friend Aleksander 'stupid' on the playground. I still feel badly about it. And I called him 'stupid' in plain daylight. Aleksander heard me. I apologized and we continued being best friends. I was burdened with guilt for days, though. I remember thinking my bad behavior had caused rain in the summer and all sorts of other bad things. You've got to love guilt, though, right? It straightens you out and it purges so well. But as a seven-year-old I learned a valuable lesson. There are other ways to make a point when you feel you are being treated unjustly. You could take Aleksander aside and tell him that he shouldn't cheat when you're playing ball. But you shouldn't just call him 'stupid.' That won't solve anything.
What I find especially sickening about Ms. Port's behavior is that she still maintains that Google infringed upon her rights by revealing her true identity and that she has the right to express whatever she wants.
No, Ms Port.
Simply put, "No way!"
This is not quite how it works in Adult-landia, you know, the place where we have rules when we're on the playground? You see, when you defame somebody, you need to face the consequences. I know, it's odd that freedom isn't quite 'free' but it's how it is. Freedom is not free of consequences. It's not. You're close to 30 and if you haven't had an opportunity to find this out by now then I am sorry. Maybe all the current media attention will help elucidate this point for you.
Freedom, Ms. Port, comes with a lot of privileges but also a lot of duties and responsibilities. You can't just spew hate, anonymous hate, and then demand that the First Amendment come to your rescue when you encounter hard times.
I've never cared about anonymous comments. Granted, anonymity is a First Amendment right, among other things, but when should one have the right to stand up for one's good name when it is dragged through the mud in a cowardly fashion? I didn't know who Liskula Cohen was before this debacle but I can now say I'm on her team. This, to me, is one of those very rare instances in life where I see myself picking a team and sticking with it.
Anonymity when used to disperse malicious reports and damaging language is not only wrong. It is cruel. Are you hearing me, Rosemary Port? Spewing hate anonymously on the internet and in real life is cruel. Plain cruel.
I, Brikena Ribaj, of www.brikenaribaj.com, am publicly pronouncing my opinion here. As a long-time blogger and supporter of Web 2.0, I am ashamed of your actions. I hope you learn to rectify your mistakes and behave with more respect vis-a-vis people and language in the future.
Drop your 15 million suit to Google for violating your First Amendment right. Drop it. Instead, find ways to be a productive member of society, detox your system from the hate you seem to have so much of, and move on. It is easier to live without hate. And better. So much better.